Sanaullah Baloch is a member of the central committee of the Balochistan National Party- Mengal (BNP-M), former senator (2003-2008) and current member Provincial Assembly. He has also served in the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) as Chief Technical Adviser in Sierra Leone (2013-2017) and Somalia.
Q: You are a member of assembly from Kharan. Can you tell us about some of the improvements in the area since you became part of the opposition?
A: Kharan has never had any large developments before now. There are challenges in health, education and infrastructure as well as a lack of clean drinking water in the area. These challenges exist all over Balochistan, where people are barely even coming up to minimum standards of living. I believe that unless we pay attention to basic infrastructure in education and health, Kharan, and Balochistan as a whole, will never prosper.
For the first time in Kharan, we’ve established around 7 Rural Health Centers and 13 Basic Health Units (BHUs). This hasn’t happened in 50 years but I was able to do it in less than one.
Another one of the biggest issues in Kharan is that students can’t go to college after finishing secondary school. So, we’ve upgraded one girls’ school and four boys’ schools to higher secondary level. It is the first time in history that one district has this many higher secondary schools. We’ve had buildings for around 6 shelter schools approved and upgraded many others.
In addition, I’ve included projects for the development if Kharan city into an urban center in the PSDP, the development of which had been stagnant for a year. I have also allocated funds to restore Kharan’s historical dignity and position. I’ve allocated around Rs. 35 Crores for water and infrastructure development in the city.
A lot of people in the periphery are suffering, so there are around Rs. 20 Crores allocated to fulfill their demands. There are many more similar projects under development.
However, I still don’t believe that it’s enough. Not just for Kharan, even though it is my home, but I think Balochistan needs a much faster paced development and some big development interventions.
Q: Education has been an interest as well as a priority of yours from the very beginning. You’ve talked about technical education courses in schools at the union council level. Can you suggest a specific model that has been applied somewhere can be utilized in Balochistan?
A: Education models all over the world have evolved with time. Societies used to be agricultural, then they became industrial and now, the world is slowly adapting into a technical society. Education systems also evolve with these developments. Unfortunately, the education system in Balochistan never evolved. We just made some primary, middle and high schools here and there a long time ago. However, we never interlinked the curricula to our society. We never had discussions on the kind of output our education system is producing and if it benefits our society, industry or economy etc.
Personally, being an expert on social, developmental and economic issues, I can give an example of the German model, where from day one, children’s education includes science and mathematics. Japan and China have similar models. In addition, they give students technical education from primary schools too. Technical centers and education centers are not separate. That is the kind of model I had suggested to be implemented in Balochistan.
Since, we cannot afford to build new infrastructure, we can upgrade existing schools at Union Council level into polytechnic education centers, so we can produce technically educated students. This is better than waiting to establish separate polytechnic schools.
Right now, there are only around 7 operational polytechnic schools in Balochistan. There are said to be about 20 to 22, but not all of them are fully operational. I’ve taken this plan up with the Provincial Assembly as well. We could upgrade existing schools in all deserving Union Councils without having to spend too much. It’s cost effective. However, it hasn’t been received at all and that reflects in the PSDP, but I plan to continue working on it.
Q: You’ve complained about shelter schools and the lack of proper infrastructure for schools in Balochistan multiple times. Have you been able to bring about any improvements in this regard? What solution have you suggested?
A: I’ve suggested to the Government of Balochistan that we should stop classifying schools into primary or middle etc., because that limits their development. My suggestion is that a school should just be a school and as students enroll to study, we upgrade them up to high schools if the need arises. This way, we only have to fund the existing schools and plan construction of infrastructure and hiring of teachers accordingly. But since, I am a member of the opposition party, I do not have enough authority to apply these suggestions. I rely on the government to understand the need and take action.
Balochistan has a very complex society. People here don’t absorb innovative ideas right away and as effectively. They are more content with adapting older ideas with minor changes. However, we need revolutionary ideas to bring us at par with the rest of the country.
Q: You have been lauded as a huge supporter of the youth, with your support of Persons with Disabilities Bill and of the Veterinary Doctors’ protests. How do you think the youth of Balochistan can be supported and empowered at a policymaking level?
A: I started my political career as a youth. I was the youngest member of the National Assembly and then also of the Senate. I remember being very energetic and always ready to take things head on. That energy is something you only possess in your youth and even though the vast majority of our population is the youth, we are wasting this energy. It can be utilized in development, progress and peace on multiple levels.
This is why I always try to see how the youth’s energy can be incorporated in any developmental process. Unfortunately, I see that most of our youth be it students or professionals are wasting this energy in protesting. Wherever you go, you see them protesting one cause or another because we have failed to utilize their energy effectively.
Today, these are mild protests, tomorrow they could easily become wild protest which could be violent. As politicians and policymakers, it is our job to listen to and act upon these mild protests, for whatever cause, before they come wild ones. We lack the leadership in Balochistan who could acknowledge and harness the youth’s energy.
Q: The CM has described many different categories of missing persons. You and many others from the opposition who have spoken out about the issue have been invited to cooperate with authorities in the recovery of these people. What is your opinion on the matter?
A: When we go abroad, we aren’t recognized as individuals, but rather by our country. A society is measured, among other things, by its human rights’ approach. That, of course, includes health and education but it also includes the treatment of suspicious people. Criminals and those under scrutiny should always be treated within the judicial and legal framework of the society. They should be arrested and presented in a court of law for a fair trial. If found innocent, they should be compensated for the damages incurred upon them during the process. This is the procedure all over the world. We never hear of people disappearing in American jails.
The missing persons issue is embedded within our society and is very bad for Pakistan’s international image. I don’t think we can categorize missing people. I don’t discriminate at all. The intensity of the alleged crime should be decided upon by the courts, not by individuals. When we depend on individuals instead of the judicial process, it encourages chaos. We want people to follow the rule of law, not break it.
This issue needs to be resolved because it negatively influences the image of our country and society as a whole. Its resolution is also a key measure to build the public’s confidence in the government.
Q: The CM, on multiple occasions, has expressed his support for a decentralized system of government. Do you agree that Balochistan can benefit from such a distribution of power?
A: Yes, I do agree. What we need to understand is that centralization is a culture, not a system. Even our constitution, our legal and administrative framework and laws don’t support centralization. But, unfortunately most things in Balochistan are extremely centralized and depend upon single individuals; from favouritism in hiring to discrimination in development initiatives. Merit, development needs and regulations in terms of power require decentralization. It is the most successfully running system in the world.
Secondly, when we introduce a non-discriminatory regime, we stop favouring people and constituencies when it comes to development because that’s a by-product of centralization. That is why I have always argued on the assembly floor that we need to decentralize development and our thinking as a whole. We need to improve the overall development framework so we can clearly define decentralization once and for all. Right now, we have a cabinet, a secretariat and the CM’s office that decide everything rather than researchers, think tanks, scholars and literature informing us before we decide. So yes, I do think that decentralization is the need of the time.
Q: You have worked as the Chief Technical Advisor for the UNDP in Somalia and Sierra Leone. What lessons from that experience do you apply to your work now?
A: Experience definitely plays a huge role in life. When I used to read the constitution of Pakistan before serving under the UN, it was with a very narrow perspective. Then, after resigning from the Senate in 2008, I started writing for various newspapers and journals on constitutional matters. Later I was approached by the UN for some assignments to advise on constitutional and political affairs.
Many ask me, why Somalia? It’s because Somalia, at that time, Somalia was in a situation similar to Pakistan. Their political system was overly centralized with a President who thought he was all-knowing. There was no system of states and the provinces had no autonomy over their affairs. After being at civil war for almost 2 decades they had started thinking about a federal centralized system.
When I went to advise them, I had the opportunity to observe their culture. I had also needed to read constitutions of many other states because I couldn’t just give the example of Pakistan. Drafting the new constitution was a participatory process. People from all walks of life were contributing, not just politicians.
Working in Sierra Leone was an even more interesting experience as their issues were very similar to those in Balochistan; distribution of minerals and an over-centralized government among others.
My experiences do reflect in my present work. Whenever I talk about development on the assembly floor I talk about making the PSDP a long-term development plan as they did in Somalia and Sierra Leone. The results are obvious there, Africa as a whole is developing at such an unprecedented pace that they will surpass us within a couple of years.
Q: What are your thoughts on the Budgets of 2019-20? What are its failings and merits?
A: It’s simply just a budget. There’s nothing special in it. It’s like how there’s just normal food at home and we eat it without complaining. But sometimes, we must realize that times are changing and we need to evolve to keep up with them. If we don’t revisit our policies, ideas and strategies, Balochistan will continue to function as it has for the last few decades. We cannot build a new Balochistan with old policies and ideas. If we want a progressive Balochistan, we need to revisit all the ingredients that make up our policies on budget, development, urbanization and education etc. We need to study things at a much deeper level.
In this regard, I think this is a very average budget. Things will stay the same. It’s not a visionary budget even though there’s so much opportunity for positive experiences rather than negatives ones in Balochistan.
Q: Where do you think the present government lacks? What is their biggest weakness?
A: I think they’re too comfortable. It feels like they don’t want Balochistan to prosper and instead want it to continue on in slow-motion. They aren’t interested in going beyond their comfort zones. They don’t try to break stereotypical thinking, outdated ideas and institutional control. The leadership lacks the zeal to revive things in a smart and effective manner.
I can’t say that there’s any one area they lack in. It isn’t even about allocation of funds. It’s about how energetic the leadership is in terms of ideas and vision and that is where they lack.
Q: What message would you like to give the youth?
A: Youth is the strongest and most powerful pillar of any society. The potential of Balochistan’s youth is underutilized and is unfortunately directed towards various protests. I would like to tell them to keep striving for a better future while focusing on their studies, and build their knowledge without losing hope. There might be fewer opportunities for them in the province right now, but the course of future can change things. In Balochistan, only the youth can revolutionize issues such as unemployment and lack of quality education. They should consider the root cause of these issues, which is the misuse of the vote that their ancestors have been casting for the wrong people. They can change the society through the right vote. They do fear that the results of the elections might be opposite of their expectations, but I still believe in the power of a democratic system. Positive and peaceful thinking is the right solution to their problems instead of continued protests, and this is the only way they can progress.
Interviewed by: Imaan Zia and Hamna Malik